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Anne Maher - Ballet boss

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Anne Maher

Anne Maher

Anne Maher

Anne Maher is the director and co-founder of Ballet Ireland. She lives in Meath with her partner Matt and their dogs.

"I used to turn on the radio and kettle together first thing in the morning, but like a lot of people these days, it's now the radio, kettle and computer. I get up around 7.30am and have breakfast, the one meal I can't do without.

My commute to work takes all of six seconds; out the back door and to the building that houses the sets and costumes for Ballet Ireland. I live near Summerhill in Meath in what was an old cattle shed converted into stores and my office. I don't have children, but I do have two Jack Russells - Abby and Tippy - who are like my children.

I have a partner, Matt, who is very understanding when I'm busy. I don't have the pressures that a lot of working women have: I don't have to juggle making lunches and homework and making a family dinner. That said, I probably spend far too many hours of my day working.

I'm not sure I would call myself a 'tough' boss. I have high expectations of the people I work with and expect them to conduct themselves in a professional manner. I think there was a propensity in the dance world years ago, maybe because our work includes touching each other quite intimately, that dancers and ballet masters treat each other way too personally.

There might have been a lot of shouting at times and what I might call 'inappropriate' ways of addressing people. I think ballet dancers are never allowed to grow up; they're still referred in some companies as boys and girls, even if they're 30 years of age. So that's something I don't do.

To be a good ballet dancer, you must be physically gifted and lucky. Obviously, a physical aesthetic is mandatory, not just because it's an aesthetic art form but because certain physical attributes enable you to master certain techniques. You have to be innately musical and rhythmical. You have to be gifted artistically, and have an artist's soul… but then you have to work like the navy.

I was fortunate to have a wonderful teacher, Myrtle Lambkin. She pushed her talented students and produced several professional dancers. She wrote personally to Princess Grace of Monaco and told her she had this talented student, and would she consider allowing me to go to the ballet school she was patron of. I was invited to Monaco on a trial basis for a month, and the first few days, I was called into the office and told I could stay. I was lucky that I had a teacher prepared to move heaven and earth to find opportunities for me, but I did put my nose to the grindstone.

I was 35 when I retired: not terribly old, but a lot of dancers retire around that age. I was still at the peak of my powers, yet I decided to return to Ireland and set up the company Ballet Ireland. I couldn't bear the idea of watching myself deteriorate. I decided to leave them clapping.

Ballet is a little bit like golf: you compete with yourself every day. It's tough to get work, but good dancers will always find work. As dancers, we get stronger in our 20s; at that point beginning to truly understand the nuances of characters and roles. Plus, you have to have your heart broken once or twice to be a good artist. When I was younger, I toured incessantly, so for me, the greatest joy was to be at home and cook my own dinner. Now, I don't travel nearly as much, so I don't find it so onerous. I travel in order to see performances by other companies.

In my downtime, I love to walk. In the summer months I walk five miles, four or five evenings a week. I adored horses when I was little but I was never allowed near them because of ballet. When I retired, I acquired a horse: the thing I loved to do was dressage, which if you think about it is kind of like ballet for horses.

I go to the theatre quite a bit too, and I go see as much dance as I can here. Generally, I never have a problem going to sleep, but if I'm in the middle of a stressful time, like in the run up to a new season, I'll probably be waking at 3am. I won't bother trying to go back to sleep: I'll get up, have some tea and do an hour's work before I tire myself out again."

Ballet Ireland is performing Swan Lake at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin from November 19 -22, and will then tour 25 venues nationally until December 21. See www.balletireland.ie for details.

Irish Independent